With awards season in full swing, Christopher Nolan‘s epic World War II thriller Dunkirk is racking up critical laurels and awards nominations, including 3 Golden Globes and 8 Critics Choice Awards nominations. So naturally, Warner Bros. is boosting the spotlight for Nolan and the film, which arrived in theaters back in July, making it one of the rare summer film to make its way into the awards race. Good news for us, because we’ve got some new insight into how Nolan structured his breathless piece of bravura war cinema.
The director spoke to the New York Times for their Anatomy Of A Scene series to discuss one of the film’s most intense, pulse-pounding moments that finds the young soldiers of Dunkirk stuck below deck on a navy ship when a torpedo strikes, trapping them in the dark, sinking ship.
“What I was interested in exploring in this scene is based on various first-hand accounts I’ve read of people who got evacuated onto large naval ships,” Nolan explains, “they were put down in the hold to maximise the number of people they could get on one ship. But of course what this means is if the boat was bombed these ships would go down very quickly.”
“It’s about darkness,” the director continues, “that absolute fear and claustrophobic sense of being trapped with hundreds of other people in a dark space rapidly filling with water. In our research, we looked at what happens to a navy vessel that’s torpedoed and it goes down very very quickly, there’s very little time to think.”
Nolan also talks a bit about shooting the sequence practically, in-camera.”To shoot this we shot some of it on-board a real destroyer off the coast of Dunkirk and then we doubled it with a forced perspective set we built in a tank so that we could roll it over into the water. The actors performed all their own stunt-work and water-work on the rolling ship.” Watch Nolan’s full explanation in the video below.